Reciprocal Determinism: Definition & Example

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  • 0:05 Behavior
  • 0:43 Theory of Reciprocal…
  • 2:31 Examples
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
This lesson provides a definition of the psychological theory of reciprocal determinism, developed by Albert Bandura, and provides examples of how this theory works in our social world.


Do you find yourself acting differently depending on who you are with? Do you even notice that you act differently depending on your environment? Do you change your behavior when, say, your teacher or your boss is in the room?

Psychologist Albert Bandura also took notice of this and wanted to figure out why. Bandura came up with a theory called reciprocal determinism, which explains how we act is influenced by the environment, individual characteristics, and behavior. In fact, all three factors are influenced by each other. His work comes out of a tradition in psychology known as social-cognitive theory, which takes an agentic approach, or one that focuses on people and their choices.

Theory of Reciprocal Determinism

Do you act the way you do because of your personality or because of your environment? According to Bandura, It's likely both.

Ever heard of Pandora's Box, from ancient Greek mythology? Well, Bandura had his own box, in the form of an experiment that came to be known as Bandura's Box. In this experiment, he found that school children who witnessed aggressive play were much more likely to act that way in turn. This asked the question: does the environment play an important role in shaping our behavior?

Bandura's theory argues that three things are responsible for the way we act: the individual, the environment, and the actual behavior. Think of this as a 3-piece puzzle we can put together.

The individual piece of the puzzle involves things like your personality, beliefs and unique characteristics. It also includes whether you have been rewarded for a certain behavior in a certain situation in the past. If so, you're likely to repeat that scenario.

The environment includes your physical surroundings and stimuli, such as other people or objects in the environment that influence your behavior. The environment can influence the frequency of a behavior or how likely we are to keep doing something.

The behavior aspect consists of what you are doing, or things you are saying, that may or may not be reinforced, depending on where you are and who you are with.

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